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June 27, 2009

Chaos Theory

I believe there are two kinds of people in this world; those who have a chaotic brain and need the outside physical world to be tidy and those who have a tidy brain and can live in absolute chaos. My late husband was the latter. The world could fall apart around him and he could think clearly and concisely. If I am surrounded by chaos, I simply cannot think!

Example: I'm sitting at the kitchen table on a quiet afternoon in Berkeley doing bills. Donel walks in with some school work, turns on the radio, and sits at the other end of the table. As the music revs up, so does Donel -- working at a good speed. As the music revs up, I cycle down until I'm no long able to think about math, but just sit listening to music. The sound takes precedence over my work. The sound is background to Donel's work.

I've always been sensitive to the world around me. If I'm sick, I will first clean the bedroom, make lists of things that need to be done by others, organize the bedside table with things I need, make phone calls to cancel events coming up, and then give in to the illness. No matter how sick I feel, I must make my visual environment acceptable so I can let it go. Donel would just go to bed and pull the covers up and come up for air when he was well. I also liked someone to make tea and toast and fuss a bit. He wanted the world to go away.

My favorite mother thing was not the part about teaching my children how to clean or cook or do those other chores that were my responsibility in our marriage. It's not that I didn't try at all. It was just so much easier to do them myself and not do them amid the snufflings, the whinings, the avoidance that comes with teaching children. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I got stressed, "Go away and let me be" was sometimes my motto. Donel would recognize when I got to that state and order me out of the house to the mall or a movie or someplace without kids. Interesting that I could teach. But, my classroom was rarely chaotic and kids always behaved for me. My first task with any class was to let them know that I expected order and they always complied. Maybe because I meant it, maybe because I was serious but pleasant, maybe because I'm big -- who knows? but, it always worked. I never had to do much discipline -- just tell kids what I wanted. I could never have taught in chaos. But, teachers always believe that all children need order. I expect my classroom was great for the Marilyns of the world, but how about the Donels? How about the child who excels at listening to both the teacher and his IPOD at the same time?

The other night I was playing Rummy Cubes with the Craswells and Marilyn Gorsuch. I was contemplating a complex play and Keith kept goading me. I simply couldn't think -- and he probably knew it because he is very competitive. When I was little I walked out on a bunch of relatives when my mother asked me to play the piano and they had no interest in listening so they kept chatting and laughing. I finally played a loud, discordant noise, and left the room. My mother never asked again. How could I even think to play with all those rude people making so much noise? Of course, my feelings were probably hurt, but I wouldn't have admitted that. I did use to slip away from our family parties where too many aunts and uncles and cousins would be loud and noisy and ignoring the children who were running around the house making more noise.

I think it is important to pay attention to the kind of needs that you have and protect yourself from the consequences of ignoring them. If I don't take care of myself, I will find a way to compensate by getting sick or pushing away people that I love in order to get what I need. I try not to fill my days with constant busyness. It is hard for my to have several events in one day. Sometimes a rule of thumb is dependent on what is expected from me. If I need to conduct a choir at church, for instance, that does it for the day since it takes so much physical and emotional energy. When I taught my Skagit class, I often would go to the tearoom at noon by myself with a book. I find ways to balance the energy out and energy in. I do puzzles, read, and garden to bring energy in. I can listen to the radio or music only when I'm doing physical tasks like cleaning house and washing dishes.

Well, there it is. A bit of this topic came up yesterday when talking with Dani about the exhaustion of cleaning the garage with Charles and James because we kept having to find James and remind him to do his work. He actually did quite a bit, but I was tired of stopping my work to tell him what I wanted. Charles was also watching Nico when James wasn't. Dani suggested that James was only thirteen and she would rather hassle with the learning process now so he will be competent at 18. Maybe I should have been better with having my kids work alongside me when they were little. Who knows. They are pretty wonderful adults. I just know that I was pretty tired last night. But, my garage is gorgeous.

Posted by Marilyn at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2009


Today is really rainy - not just the Northwest style of a little drizzle with some clear skies on the horizon. I can't even see the horizon today. I can't see the islands and I can barely see a ship on the water in the middle of the bay. Not that it is heavily raining, it is just a fine curtain of drips and mist. Charles and I were supposed to work on clearing my garage to use it as a storage for an up and coming garage sale, but I don't think we will do it this afternoon short of a miracle. The beauty of the northwest is that it may actually be sunny by noon. Well, since it is eleven now, I'd better say two instead.

I've been puttering around the house this morning and mostly frittering time. It is a good day for writing, so I thought I would warm up by writing on my blog. I may even take myself down to the tearoom for a cozy lunch. I can waste more time not writing than spend time writing.

Last night I had dinner with a group of friends who have met monthly for more years than I can remember. At one time the church was suggesting that groups form around a topic. I was interested in talking to other couples about stewardship. We also ate. Only the eating survived. After all, how many months and years can you talk about stewardship? There were four couples and I thought I would drop out after Donel died, but was persuaded to stick with it. We are all as comfortable together as old shoes. We have a regular schedule and rotate houses and what we bring. Last night we were talking about foods we used to know such as spam and jello and our particular family's eating habits.

Sometimes when we are sitting around after appetizers (with some kind of juice), dinner with red and white wine followed by coffee or tea and dessert, we just chat about children, grandchildren, traveling, illness, friends, church, etc. It is all very relaxed. Sometimes I think we all could just doze off (after the wine) and wake up and we'd still be talking and enjoying one another. I guess that is what old friends are like. I'm sure we have heard some of the tales before, but it doesn't matter. Strangely, we rarely eat the same things over and over. The food is always as delicious as the company.

I'm fortunate to have a large network of friends from church and from my teaching and counseling past as well as wonderful, congenial neighbors. There are good people in my life and I am supremely grateful.

Posted by Marilyn at 11:02 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2009


Each of my grandchildren are very different from the other. Each are quirky, but James takes the cake. First of all, he does not like chocolate! He doesn't like sweets, and he does like absolutely everything else you feed him. Yesterday, I took him to Redmond to see his cousin Nicole's elementary school graduation. We left at 6:45 a.m. because the program began at 9:00 a.m. So, James spent the night. We both stayed up until 11:00 watching a couple of new TV programs (something we like to do together). You would think he would be difficult to get up in the morning, but he takes just one nudge and up he gets cheerfully (the only child in our family ever to do so). After the graduation, Nicole had a party, her mother had school, her sister had school, her father was under the weather, so James and I went to the local mall and then to the movies.

He needed no snack, he wanted no popcorn or drink. After the movie, we went to lunch -- which he ate with relish. He was not picky about the restaurant although I know he would have loved to go to Olive Garden which I vetoed because we have one in Bellingham. But, he would have gone anywhere - ethnic or American food. He did sleep in the car on the way home, but was as cheerful as could be the whole day. He is rather dogmatic and believes he knows better than his parents or me about most subjects, but is willing to listen if one perseveres.

He once read "A Fast Food Nation" and has refused to eat anything from McDonald's ever since. Even when his mother and I go through the outdoor window for a cold drink, he will not participate. When he was six, he made me leave a movie because there were only four people in the theatre.He absolutely refused to stay and watch the movie and I had to beg for my money back. He has only recently even liked movie theaters. He also hated clowns and boats when he was little.

He prefers not to talk about girls at the moment although they are all talking about him. He's tall and handsome and a really good bass player. He has decided to play the tuba in the fall because he doesn't like the school orchestra as well as the band. He has never played the tuba but that doesn't daunt him. He has had music in his soul since birth. He also has amazing spatial abilities and could put together advanced lego projects since he was little. He is strong and often helps his dad with physical projects around the house. He is very loving with small children and a wonderful big brother even if he complains that his parents let Nico get into his things.

He believes my house is his house, my refrigerator is his refrigerator, my computer is his computer, my television is his television, etc. We do have to remind him to ask. But, he did live here when he was two and a short while last fall - so he has some rightful ownership. However, he's really unique and a very, very nice person. Isn't it fun to see how a human takes shape as they grow up?

Posted by Marilyn at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2009


I've been resurrecting my old barbecue. We've had it for about ten years. Probably time to throw it out. But, I decided to buy new insides. Only problem is that I didn't know how to take it apart or put it back together. I remembered my contractor, Tom, said he had done that several times. So, I asked him to help. I went online and bought some of the original insides and yesterday I began cleaning it up. Not a fun job. It made me think of the people I know who really enjoy restoring things. Surely, they cannot do it to save money. A new barbecue would have cost much less than the time I have put in cleaning and getting new parts - which were not cheap. The barbecue is going on the porch outside of my new breakfast room which is already piped for the gas I need to fuel it. The weather has been so lovely here that I left the newly cleaned barbecue outside last night. Wouldn't you know it -- it rained. I don't think any damage was done, but I was annoyed nonetheless.

I finally chose a tile for the kitchen and I'm waiting to see what the moldings look like. I don't know why the tile has been so difficult, but it has. It will be a yellow subway tile (rectangular) and perhaps have a different configuration over the sink. It will blend into the kitchen instead of call attention to itself. It took so long to find the right yellow -- but I finally did. I wasn't in a hurry because I needed to gather the finances. Next project will be to find my painter who has disappeared and to begin working towards putting the cabinets into the pool room. It is nice to have a leisurely time to make decisions.

When Tom came over to look at the barbecue, he also took a look at the front deck. His guys installed the post for the front deck right in the middle of my stairs down to the backyard. I tried to work with it, but it is really an annoyance. So, he is trying to reconfigure a way to support the deck and move the post out of the way. Someday, I hope I can afford a new bathroom on the first floor. Meanwhile, maybe he will stay around doing all these little bitty projects.

Posted by Marilyn at 9:26 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2009


In the summer of 1962, Donel and I took a trailer trip with his parents up through the Northwest to see the Seattle Fair, and through Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. I was really excited to see Las Vegas since I'd not been there before. We found a trailer park in the afternoon and headed into town to take in a dinner show. I was so excited until we walked through the casino and I felt totally overwhelmed by the glitz and sleaziness. On top of that, I was newly pregnant and easily irritated. It was just too much. We ended up eating in a small deli and driving back to meet my in-laws who had stayed in the trailer because they had no desire for the fast life. I must say that I enjoyed the national parks ever so much more than Las Vegas.

Those feelings returned last night as I met some former teacher friends in Skagit Valley at the casino for dinner. We are surrounded by casinos in Washington as we are surrounded by native American reservations that run them. I walked through the main casino to get to the buffet and it was the old glitz that I remembered so long ago. I have been to the Skagit casino before for a fund raiser, but it was in the hotel facility next door. I must say that it was so beautiful outside and inside hundreds of people were trying their hand at playing among flashing lights and a myriad of tables that serve the gambling public.. It was hard to believe that so many people were gambling in this economic time. I can see why the casinos are extremely lucrative with the huge crowds of people trying their luck. I had more difficulty understanding why all these people would rather be in a darkened room with flashing lights instead of outside in the glorious sunny green world.

My father was a strong critic of legalized gambling. Oh, he enjoyed going to Las Vegas and did so once a year taking along $300 to try his luck. Often he paid for his trip and brought a bit home. When he went through his pot, he stopped gambling. He had that kind of discipline. It was just a fun weekend and a party for his friends. But, he voted no on every single attempt to legalize gambling in California. He thought organized crime would follow and he didn't want the state to make taxes on the backs of poor people who gambled away their earnings. I guess his passion rubbed off on me. I only once played the slot machines in Reno and won a few bucks. But, I'm not willing to risk more than the cost of a theatre ticket or a good meal -- since that is what I consider play money.

And, I must say, the atmosphere in the casinos really depresses me. The glitzier it is, the more I feel that I want out of the building and into the fresh air. I was surprised by my prudish reaction last night. Perhaps when you are pregnant, certain experiences make impressions that never go away. In any case, casinos bring back that claustrophobic reaction I had that first visit to Las Vegas. I have absolutely no desire to go back even to see the magnificent shows. Now, the warm air and poolside lunches might tempt me. But, not the casinos. Give me horse racing any day!

Posted by Marilyn at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2009


Don't you wonder why Saturdays are a lovely weekly holiday when one is retired and everyday could potentially be a Saturday? I still look forward to weekends even when I'm not sure why. My brain is definitely washed! I also cannot think that we have hit summer until next week when the local schools are out. Our weather is ready however. It has been absolutely beautiful. My neighbor, Millie, and her husband have gone to Eastern Washington for their anniversary because they made reservations when it was cold and rainy here. They were looking for sun. They didn't want to leave Bellingham on Thursday. Unfortunately, their reservations were made so off they went. I'm taking in their mail and feeling sorry for them.

I have been dissecting my remodeling blog these past few days looking for entries that were written about the lessons I learned while my house and life was in chaos. Designer Debbie thought it was publishable. I'm not so sure. But, I decided to extract some entries and edit them -- gathering them together for an article or something -- at least to share with my writing group. It is a good exercise if nothing else. I'm trying to beef up the writing a bit to tell the story of my remodel.

Here is what Debbie has shared - it is helpful for others thinking about remodeling to read about the reality of it, it gives a humorous point of view when life is chaotic, and it can tell what I learned over the experience. I'm trying to capture all that without using my entire blog which can get very, very boring read all at once. Well, it might have been very, very boring if you read it at all. But, then most of you readers are my friends and family.

I'm writing this with itchy arms. I was gardening last week and much to the horror of many of my friends, I do not wear any sunscreen. I have never in my life worn sunscreen except on days when I am both in the hot sun and by water. I have lived most of my life going to the beach and I have never had any problems except for occasional sunburn. But, my arms got all blotchy, rashy, and sick looking within a day. This was curious. So, I read the materials that came with my new blood pressure meds and, sure enough, they say that I would be much more sensitive to the sun. Drat!!! When I began taking the meds, it was winter and believe me we had absolutely no sun this winter except that light which bounced off the snow. But, the meds were the only variable that I could think of in my life that would make my body change. Sure enough! There it was in black and white. And, I'm a bit better, but still blotchy. I'm covering up my arms in this lovely weather although it is rather warm to do so. And, I have been gardening only in the shade.

If I lose 50 lbs. I can shed my medicine. Better than my skin!

Posted by Marilyn at 9:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2009

My Lawnmower

You may remember that I took my ailing lawnmower to be fixed about a month ago. I found out that it wasn't ailing at all, I had forgotten that it needed a key inserted to start the motor. But, that trip to Anacortes was not a disaster because I found out that my sweet little electric machine had been recalled. The person in charge of the fix-it shop at Ace Hardware said she would call me when the part was in. She did just that and I went down yesterday to get the lawnmower refitted.

It was a lovely day and I drove down Chuckanut Drive. It turns and twists above the water and goes through Larrabee State Park. At the bottom of the windy drive is Skagit Valley and mile after mile of lovely farm acreage, animals, quaint towns, and twisty waterways. Skagit Valley is the home of the daffodil and tulip farms that are famous in the spring. Anacortes is the last town on the penninsula. It is where you catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands and about a forty-five minute drive from Bellingham.

I was so captivated by the visual images throughout the trip. Once I dropped off my machine, I roamed the town and visited antique stores, their Indie bookstore, and a few other specialty shops. I bought a charming little $1.00 basket and had lunch at an Italian restaurant on the main street. My lawnmower was ready in about three hours and I began the trip north after having a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable day.

Late in the afternoon, I attended a book talk by Chuck and Dee, the owners of Village Books. They review the latest books when they return from the American Booksellers Association each spring. They do it for several book groups and the reading community. All in all, the day was so delightfully relaxing that I felt I had been on vacation. At 9:45 pm, I called Martin and Christine and caught them at the airport before they boarded for England. Their trip might be more dramatic, but they won't have a better day than I had just going to Anacortes with my lawnmower.

Posted by Marilyn at 3:02 PM | Comments (0)

June 8, 2009

Monday Morning

It is a bleak Monday morning, but in the Northwest you can have faith that the bleakness will fade and the sun will soon shine. That is what happened to me after the last post -- I was really in the doldrums, but the busyness of the day soon kicked that right out of my system. It doesn't take long to pass when I get energized by the world around me. And, you must read my friend KJ's comment about getting my butt in gear and organizing myself to write. OK, KJ -- good point!

But, today I am intensely jealous of my son and his girlfriend because Martin and Christine are about to take a plane trip to England! My lifelong dream is to go to England and see the place my mother was born. How funny that all I ever heard of was that my mother was born in England. Her parents came from there, but I don't know if both her parents were English. Seems like my grandfather came from France originally. I don't have much information about their side of the family. I know my mom was born in Warwickshire and there was an old family legend that her brother, Cyril, had inherited a manor that he never went over to claim or even visit. Memories from childhood are fickle and I just remember my family talking about it. Since my mom was the eldest of three and I never knew her parents, all I have left is what I remember her talking about from time to time. Her brother died before she did and her sister soon after.

Wouldn't it be nice to have such things written down and recorded? I'd love to have audio tapes from the family holidays where my parents and aunts and uncles sat around the table and told stories about their past. I would like to visit those tapes on demand. Now, my mom's siblings are gone and I'm not sure my cousins learned any more than I did. Their parents were born in America and my mom came over when she was two. It must have been a traumatic trip because she never really enjoyed anything old or English. She was funny like that -- it was as if she was ashamed of not being American by birth.

My mom's British cousin and her children came over once and visited. They brought the grandchild who was a victim of the Thalidomide tragedy and had been born with no arms. He could do amazing things with just his feet. He didn't even seem disabled after awhile. Mom and her cousins wrote letters back and forth. I used to look at those pictures of quaint village and wish I lived in England instead of dreary old Los Angeles. I guess I was a throwback in my family. I don't think my siblings ever gave England a second glance. I was always the dreamer and the romantic.

Well, I will go vicariously with Martin and Christine. And, perhaps someday I'll go myself. I hope so.

Posted by Marilyn at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

June 4, 2009

Second Chance

This is my second try at the blog today. I have been ignoring it since I am going through a drab period of time. I simply cannot think of anything important enough to say. Living alone is probably not the best environment for getting one out of the doldrums. I'm not particularly depressed, just low energy and uninspired. I just had a quick conversation online with Martin about it.

I had a really restless night. Got up and took a friend to leave her car to be serviced. Went to my weekly breakfast with Katy who stays with me two days a week while she teaches at WWU. Came home and checked out email and online news. I decided to get onto the blog since I have been avoiding and ignoring it for over a week. I wonder if I'm more energetic when I have a busier schedule? It seems that I have more time on my hands lately and hence less driven.

I'll have to think about this. I do know that I am energized by projects and by responsibilities. Somehow sitting around relaxing all day is not my cup of tea unless it is a prescribed vacation or some kind of snow day (an odd phenomena for a California girl). Almost every day I have some kind of schedule for myself. For instance, I was low on energy yesterday -- but I still managed to pot some flowers and to plant some vegies. I watered and worked on cleaning my deck. That part didn't work too well and Charles is going to help me pressure wash it. Both decks are under the trees and get very dirty. In any case, I pushed myself to do something yesterday even when I didn't particularly feel up to it.

Today I have a luncheon and a haircut. I will manage to perk up for both of those. But, in between I feel listless and devoid of energy. I wonder why? I'll have to give this all more thought. In the meantime, I'm going to cut myself some slack.

Posted by Marilyn at 10:10 AM | Comments (1)